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Net neutrality rules won't leave anyone completely happy
Five years of debate was expected to end with a compromise by the Federal Communications Commission, and like all compromises, everyone isn't going to be happy.
Today's expected ruling, however, does appear to achieve a balance between the public interest and the rights of businesses to receive a fair return on their investments.
At issue is net neutrality, or the idea that all data transmitted over the Internet be treated equally.
For the public, the rules will prevent fixed-line Internet providers from blocking content and online services from rival companies or providing preferential treatment to paying clients.
Wireless Internet providers won't be allowed to block applications or services that are competitors to their own services -- Verizon, for example, would not be allowed to block access to Skype because it also provides a voice service.
Wireless companies will be allowed to charge content companies for more efficient delivery, and will be allowed to block applications or services that are not a competitor.
Providers also will be allowed to charge customers more for using high-bandwidth services such as downloading or streaming videos like YouTube or movie rental site Netflix.
Netflix, Skype and Amazon, of course, have their doubts about the new rules, and Sen. Al Franken, former Saturday Night Live writer and performer, worries that cable companies can block online video providers, for example, or that Fox News might be able to push its content through the Web faster than a local political blog.
"Imagine if big corporations with their own agenda could decide who wins or loses online," Franken said. "The Internet as we know it would cease to exist."
Fox commentator and probable presidential candidate Mike Huckabee challenged the FCC's power to regulate the Internet at all, predicted court challenges and called for the incoming Republican house to slash funding for the agency.
The truth is in the middle; the Internet wouldn't exist today without early government support, but it wouldn't have permeated our society without profit and private investment, especially in the wireless arena.
Let's hope regulators and lawmakers err on the side of freedom of speech.